Blog: HEAT Study Draws Attention to Disparities in Wyandotte County

February 13, 2017

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Last fall, the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County pulled together health providers, program directors, faith community and neighborhood leaders and other advocates to reflect on the results of a three-year study by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University of the environmental factors affecting health equity in the community. The HEAT report, short for Health Equity Action Transformation, examined the interplay of community and environmental conditions that are having a negative impact on the health of Wyandotte County residents.

The study utilized a tool called “opportunity mapping,” a way of developing an equity profile of communities by using city, county, public health, housing, hospital data and other information to understand where opportunities – and disparities – exist, and at what levels. The Kirwan Institute, which has done mapping projects in other communities, including Kansas City, Mo., uses mapping to provide a visual picture of the relationship between marginalized populations and opportunity to help residents and advocates develop action plans for addressing the gaps.

The HEAT study includes information on infant mortality, life expectancy, access to health care providers, and housing access and affordability, and incorporates historical records that highlight zoning and real estate/neighborhood development that over years resulted in concentrations of low-income housing and residents. The study also presents an “opportunity index” that combines 19 indicators for the Kansas City metropolitan area into a composite ranking assigned by Census tract. The index includes graduation rates, college attainment, access to early childhood education, and availability of health foods, parks, housing and other indicators connected to well-being.

“The Wyandotte County Hotspotting/Mapping project presented an opportunity to help community leaders pinpoint the areas with the highest concentration of unmet medical need so as to understand where resources, information and solutions are needed,” said Bill Moore, Ph.D., Vice President of Program and Evaluation at the REACH Foundation. “This study has helped to fill in the picture of where health leaders and others, including philanthropy, can grow capacity and contribute resources.”

The Community Health Council of Wyandotte County has used these data tools, along with a collection of stories from people personally affected, to encourage conversations among health program and neighborhood leaders. Donna Young, project manager at the Health Council, began working with agencies and neighborhood leaders months in advance of the study’s release through action teams that are focusing on the most urgent findings, such as prenatal and post-natal infant death, chronic disease and access to health services.

The action teams and projects have applied information and insights from the HEAT study to community initiatives, such as Healthy Communities Wyandotte, Tobacco Free Wyandotte, a Clean Energy Clean Air Coalition, Healthy Environment Coalition, work focused on lead exposure and asthma, and other local health endeavors. Young said the HEAT study and other Health Council work are set up to support and assist with community-driven decision-making, not drive it.

A website launched in November,, features the health and opportunity maps, and video stories. The interactive online maps highlight differences in health, education and neighborhood need. Key findings include:

  • Thirty to forty-five percent of those living in Wyandotte County neighborhoods of greatest concern are children.
  • Locations with high infant mortality: The county’s highest infant mortality rates are found in largely black neighborhoods – 11.6 infant deaths per 100 live births, more than double the mortality rate of infants in largely white (4.9/100 births) and Hispanic (8.2/100 births) neighborhoods.
  • The variation in life expectancy and the extent of the range depending on geography: Central Kansas City, KS, neighborhoods show average mortality ranges from 59 to 62 years, whereas in the western part of the city, average mortality is 71 to 82 years.
  • Data from the Unified Government of Wyandotte County Public Health Department (2009-2013) showed heart disease, cancer and stroke as the leading causes of death overall, but the rates varied depending on location. For example, deaths due to heart disease range from three in a year in some Census tracts to 30-plus in others.
  • Nearly half of the county’s residential parcels, through a combination of age and low assessed value, hold the potential for lead poisoning risk due to the presence of lead-based paint. The prevalence of poorly maintained housing also potentially harbors asthma triggers such as mold and infestations of insects and vermin.

A number of partners contributed information to the project, including the University of Kansas Medical Center, Children’s Mercy Hospital, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and the University of Kansas School of Architecture, Design and Planning. Funding for the project came from the REACH Healthcare Foundation, Wyandotte Health Foundation and the Kansas Health Foundation.

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